Homeschooling is an umbrella term and every experience—and every parent and child—is different. So bring your shaker of salt when reading the below. I originally wrote this pretty quickly as a response to a question from a friend about my homeschooling experience. I certainly have edited it since that initial draft, but I did avoid cleaning it too much or adding too many disclaimers, so keep that in mind. I also haven’t done a ton of research on homeschooling in general, so most of this is coming from my own experience and what I’ve picked up from talking to other homeschoolers and people in general.
I felt like I could learn anything on my own from a book, and that’s largely proven true in my life. I also felt like I could learn anything if I was willing to put in the time, and I realized that my peers didn’t always feel that way. It would be interesting to ask my sisters if they also had that experience. That has proven pivotal in my life. It sort of gives me long-term confidence. I might not be sure of myself in the moment, but I feel confident I can learn anything or get better at anything in the long run, even if I’m slow at it at first.
Downside: It was only during my last year in college that I realized the value in simply going to every single class and taking notes in class and then only using the textbook when you need to. I wasted so many hours devouring the textbook when it was probably unnecessary if I instead just went to class and took good notes.
Downside #2: I have to watch out for myself trying to do too many things on my own. Homeschooling can program you to be too independent. So care has to be taken to learn both how to do things on your own when it makes sense, but fully utilizing others around you otherwise. Otherwise, you’ll simply waste time and miss out on the inherent riches of working closely with other people and learning together. It’s tempting to learn things on my own because I usually learn them more deeply, but you have to be careful how many things you choose to do that with.
Pete Maravich is a Hall of Fame basketball player but didn’t have a ton of success in the NBA. One theory is that he was an individual marvel but didn’t know how to fully work well with a team to win (I think he learned most of his mind-blowing skills on his own). Sometimes I feel like that’s how I am in the things I excel at (but not on Pete’s individual skill level of course ?), so I have to watch out for that. It can be shortsighted, and what you can offer can be wasted if you don’t know how to fully integrate with other people and work together in a rich, full way… something I’m still learning.
What’s my schedule?
One thing I’ve struggled with is the fact that homeschooling had too loose of boundaries of time. It made it too easy to procrastinate. The whole day felt a bit amorphous. There was a freedom to that, but a high cost in that I still struggle being really deliberate “getting all my work done” and then changing gears to “free time” at night. Homeschooling made it too easy to mix all that together. There is a potential positive to this in a way in that it makes you feel like the whole day is yours to do what you will with, but you need to watch out for this because much of life does require some sort of set schedule.
There is also a double-edged sword that I have a lot of hobbies at least partly due to the freedom of homeschooling which can absolutely drive me crazy because I can’t figure out how to fit it all in. I’m literally in discussion with my current company to potentially work reduced hours so I can do more of the side things I want haha. Obviously, this is a humblebrag too though since having more hobbies is fun too (shrug).
I was rarely made fun of and (almost) never felt like any subject was weird or embarrassing to get interested in. I started piano and could practice during the school day. No other boys were around to make fun of me for learning a “sissy” instrument or anything like that. No one made fun of me when I got behind in history but two years ahead in math. My sister got really into Egypt so my mom let her do a deep dive into it. This highlights some of the best of homeschooling. Learning is cool because of course it is. No one is around to question that obvious fact, so we didn’t. Most homeschoolers I know seem to have an innate thirst for learning that was fortunately never dampened by bullies or other distractions. Homeschooling makes it easier to maintain that inherent thirst all children naturally have.
Social life: some potentially big cons but maybe also pros
We were more isolated than most homeschoolers, and my dad was sickly. I was socially starved and I’m honestly still making up for that in my 30s (partly due to other reasons too, like being a bit isolated accidentally in my 20s for independent reasons). I think you can probably strike a balance when homeschooling so that your kids really do feel like they have a pretty strong social life. But it can be a concern. A friend of mind at Georgia State, who wasn’t homeschooled, once said about a mutual friend, “I could tell she was homeschooled because she was always talking to tons of people and all over the place socially.” That shocked me because it’s the opposite of the stereotype. But I realized it was true for her and me and my siblings too… we were a bit socially starved so we wanted to talk to everyone and had massive FOMO once we got “out among the people.” This isn’t always the case, but it can be.
Pros: homeschoolers are more likely to be comfortable socializing with adults and people outside their peer group since they are not simply thrown into a mass of only their age group every single day. I think they’re also more likely to jump into deep conversation more easily for sort of similar reasons. You can’t just “vibe with your peers” every day, so conversation can feel a bit more special and intentional. However, there’s a con to this too because I needed to learn to just chill and small talk a bit with coworkers (for instance)… I was terrible at that at first haha. Apologies to all the ladies who felt like I either interviewed them or got way too intense/deep on first dates ?♂️.
In the name of honesty, I’m going to be a bit harsh for a second. Sometimes I can find myself gravitating away from other homeschoolers when I meet them in a larger social group. Homeschoolers can be a bit weird and I honestly do believe “undersocialized” the same way animals can be undersocialized. Not all homeschoolers are this way, and I don’t know what the threshold of socialization is to make someone “normal,” but there is a danger here. Obviously one must keep in mind that people that went through regular school can be quite weird and have underdeveloped social skills as well.
I should note there is always going to be a “grass is always greener” aspect to this as well. I only lived my life and I have to check myself for FOMO on these points when comparing to people who went through regular school. Hollywood depictions of idyllic school life and friends, and sports, and quaint friendly neighborhoods can only help skew things further.
What is your world? Home or school?
To me, this is one of the most interesting differences I can tell. For me, my “world” was at home. That was the default context for my life and the one I would come back to after the few classes I took at the hybrid school I went to in high school. I think for kids in regular school, their “world” might very well be school and all their friends there. If that’s true, it’s definitely more understandable that parents feel like they sometimes lose their child during their teenage years, they deal with “attitude problems,” and stuff like that. If my world was school and my friends, I would care a lot less about what my parents and siblings thought, for instance. Obviously, this can easily be an oversimplification, but I think there’s probably truth in this. I wish there were an in-between honestly. I was too isolated, but I do feel like the modern school system creates too much of an independent world/bubble for your child where they spend the majority of their time as well and the family means less in an immediate sense. It’s important to remember the modern school system, and even the modern concept of the teenager, didn’t even exist 150-200 years ago. So it’s healthy (I think) to be at least a little suspicious of it. Something hybrid might be more natural and healthy for that age of a child.
This leads into the next thing. Since my “world” (my primary existence you could say) was at home, I was eager to get out in the world. You might think that homeschooling makes you close-minded, but in my experience, the opposite is true because it’s impossible to ignore that your current world is quite small (your home). You know the real whole world is out there. On the other hand, if you’re in school and that’s your “world” (especially if you like that world, which often isn’t the case admittedly), then I think you can get too comfortable in that bubble, which can carry over to a new bubble in college (particularly if you’re a really sociable person), and maybe even after that. In contrast, there’s no way you can be comfortable in your bubble if you’re homeschooled—it’s too small to be comfortable! haha. You’re eager to break out! Although I’m in danger of this sounding braggy, I do feel like my default mindset is a bit “bigger” than the average person in my peer group. I was isolated as a kid and was forced to think in terms of the whole world and the entire universe of ideas out there, and that didn’t stop (at least not entirely) as I got older.
You Are Like Your Parents
A lot of homeschoolers are weird. I’m a bit weird too, but not quite as much as the stereotypical “weird” homeschooler. I actually have a theory about this. I don’t think homeschooling makes you weird necessarily. Homeschooling makes you like your parents, and a lot of parents that choose to homeschool are… a bit weird. My parents are very sociable and interesting people, and I think a lot of that rubbed off on me and my siblings. Don’t worry, I’m still a bit weird too. Someone once responded, “yeah I could tell” when I told them I was homeschooled. C’est la vie.
I will keep this very short to simply say: do your own research and you will probably find that homeschoolers excel academically by almost all metrics (that I’ve found). This area clearly isn’t the concern with homeschooling.
(Not So) Final Thoughts
Apologies if any of this sounded like “homeschoolers are better” or I was tooting my own horn or anything like that. I actually have mixed feelings about homeschooling. I think there are some very strong pros to homeschooling, but potential major cons as well and I wish there was a better middle ground. I do think the modern school system has become almost too large of a beast. When rewinding the clock on the human race and thinking what would be a more “natural” way to teach the children and integrate them into your village (or whatever small-ish community you would be in), it’s hard not to picture something that would be essentially in between homeschooling and today’s school system. So perhaps that’s the more natural and better option. Side note: that also might be a more natural way to live in general… in smaller communities but more closely with other families rather than the somewhat isolated family unit way most suburban people live. But that’s another topic :).
I also care a lot about equality and how to help underprivileged kids and all those things, which complicates the idea of homeschooling. But I don’t think resorting to a style of “lowest common denominator” teaching with a thirty to one student/teacher ratio is the answer either. I don’t know what the answer is. Also, all this must be read against the fact I was particularly isolated (think a milder version of the movie Captain Fantastic). We were in the woods on twelve acres of land with the nearest neighbor a mile away. There was a good bit of childhood where church on Sunday was the main (only?) regular social outlet. My volleyball named Wilson was my best friend (THIS PART IS A JOKE)
I’m currently reading (skimming mostly) Newton’s Principia Mathematica with a guide & commentary (see I’m weird—but also interesting!!). Newton was a weird dude with some childhood trauma and sounds like he was probably a somewhat isolated, bitter person at times. As we all know, a lot of times trauma and unusual (sometimes harsh) circumstances bring out some of the most meaningful output from people in history. Sometimes I think homeschooling, at least the bad parts, can do that a little bit to a person. I feel like the parts of myself I’m most proud of and where I think the biggest might’ve been forged in the fires of being a bit isolated and having to dig deep within myself. If that really comes from trauma, then you of course don’t want to actually wish that on someone. But it’s a weird paradox. Similar to hazing in a fraternity. It really does bring the pledge class closer together (so do wars for soldiers!) but you shouldn’t create trauma on purpose. Once again, this is me talking from a Captain Fantastic background, which isn’t normal either. Honestly, I’m a bit tempted to delete this paragraph because it really might not apply to homeschooling per se, but I’ll leave it since it certainly applies to my story and perhaps other children that were more isolated than the norm.
So What Am I Going To Do?
Honestly, I don’t know. I could see homeschooling my kids (should I have them) for at least the earlier ages. That social starvation I experienced didn’t seem to kick in until the later years… and once again we were more isolated than most homeschoolers. But I could also see putting my kids through “normal” school as well. Maybe you can get the positives of homeschooling simply through an ideal, healthy, and perhaps creative approach to regular school. But obviously you could reverse that statement and say that if you tweak homeschooling enough, add group activities with other families, etc, you can gain back all the positives of regular schooling! This just highlights how a sense of creativity and willingness to innovate in education is necessary for us all to figure out better and healthier ways to educate our kids.
In the end, maybe the ideal is something that’s in between the version of homeschooling I did and a normal school experience. I’m honestly not sure and there are a lot of variables to consider. Please share your own thoughts below!